Michael Scott from the Office once said, “Presents are the best way to show someone how much you care. It is like this tangible thing that you can point to and say, ‘Hey man, I love you this many dollars-worth.’ “
So when my Dad hit a big birthday milestone last December, it was challenging to figure out a gesture that seemed right-sized for the occasion. Motorcycle gear? Something for the house? Yet another gadget?
But to celebrate 60 years of life and just hand him some STUFF seemed a little lackluster. Wasn’t there something we could do that might be more meaningful, make him even happier?
After a little brainstorming, we reached a consensus – we’d give him some sort of experience. Surely this would pay greater dividends than one more possession to add to the figurative pile, especially when you consider the marginal value of memories as compared to the marginal value of objects. Right?
In the end, the family said: “Hey man, we love you one vacation’s-worth.”*
*Except please don’t go TOO far because Megan’s going to be on sabbatical and for all we know, could be living on rice and beans by then.
We sat at the kitchen table and submitted cities: Austin, TX. Minneapolis, MN. Louisville, KY. Toronto, ON. Missoula, MT. New Orleans, LA…we made our cases, ranked and eliminated until finally the winner emerged:
Off to Toronto! 12 days taking in tourist attractions, restaurants and cute cafes/neighborhoods. Canada was a surprisingly fantastic travel destination: you get a touch of an international experience (phones won’t work, different currency, lots more French) without the big international pricetag, thanks to reasonable airfare and the favorable exchange rate.
Not knowing much about the city, I had no idea there’d be so much to love about Toronto in our short time there:
I love how many words are spelled differently, with its colours and neighbours and centres and cidres and so on, loved how clean Toronto seems for being one of the largest cities in North America, the cheeful signs we see in businesses, the friendly train conductor who paused the Metro to make sure we knew where we were headed.
I loved the splashes of French you see all over the city that instantly makes everything feel a little more cosmopolitan; the dazzling skyline with so many glassy blue-toned skyscrapers edging the shore of Lake Ontario.
I loved that no one could use their cell phones, forcing us to pay attention to who and what’s around us, pushing us out of our comfort zones since we couldn’t turn to apps for instant help like we would in the States. Unless you choose to conveniently ignore the skyrocketed roaming charges, and use your phone anyway, for seemingly non-urgent things, even after you get multiple text messages warning you of the major charges you’ve racked up on your bill! You know who you are. 🙂
I loved what a surprisingly good show the Toronto Blue Jays put on, how very Torontonian one feels watching the game in the shadow of the CN Tower. I loved our tiny, straight out of IKEA airbnb apartment and what a difference it makes to stay in a home with a kitchen and family room where conversation can drift in and out or you can sit together and just be.
And I loved walking past the corner neighborhood coffee shop on the way back to our airbnb as my dad observed, “what a nice little place to sit and grab a latte tonight.” This is a weird comment from someone who doesn’t like coffee unless you count a Venti White Mocha, 1 shot espresso. But to my ears, it was the most perfect suggestion he could make.
I didn’t know it until I went to New York and first heard the phrase, but what my Dad wanted to do, I think, was to stop and lap up the sweetness of life, as it were. And he’s one of the best at doing this that I know, the type of person that almost always errs on the side of adventure, who can’t help but be interested in so many things around him, who seems to see life as a gift we’d do well to enjoy while we can, and reminds me to do the same.
So he and I unload the groceries at the apartment, then have a simple hour of sitting on the porch in the 6pm air, sipping, talking about lighthearted father-daughter things with some big topics percolating along the way.
He and I haven’t had a perfect relationship, but we’ve come a long way from the sarcastic Dad and overly sensitive adolescent dynamic of the past. Maybe he’s softened, maybe I’ve toughened up, or maybe we’ve gotten a little better at telling the truth about what we think and feel, without running away in emotion or putting up a front with humor, staying in dialogue a little longer until we can understand each other and move forward.
He might have realized or he might not, but this impromptu coffee moment meant so much to me, felt mundanely precious in a way. I know I won’t always have so much time to stop and sit with him, won’t always feel so relaxed and present, and I’m starting to admit that life doesn’t give us these moments in unlimited quantities.
From where I sat, coffee in hand, looking across the table at one of the people I love most in the world, if there was a case to be made for taking some time away from work, it would most definitely include a simple moment like this.
So happy birthday, Dad, and thanks for sharing vacation with us. I hope time as a family was a better present than some more stuff.
If not, I guess we really owe you this Christmas.
For now, suffice it to say I love you roughly 12 days worth, plus a latte.